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Did the Devil Make Samuel L. Jackson Do “Evil”?

April 13, 2012

On May 4, Samuel L. Jackson will unleash his Nick Fury on the big screen in the surefire supersmash The Avengers. The same day, he’ll also hit theaters in Meeting Evil, as a mysterious stranger (channeling the Church Lady: “Could he be… oh, I don’t know…SATAN?”) who tempts a put-upon family man (Luke Wilson) to commit heinous crimes. The question is, Sam: What the hell?

The only explanation: Jackson sold his soul to the devil. How else could a guy who should’ve won an Oscar by now—if not for his Bible-quoting hit man in Pulp Fiction, then for his doomed crackhead in Jungle Fever—get mixed up in misfires like Snakes on a Plane, the xXx soon-to-be-trilogy and this shoulda-gone-straight-to-cable debacle (which is already available on VOD as a “Pre-Theatrical Rental”).

You can certainly understand why Jackson was tantalized by the prospect of playing Beelzebub: It gives him license to devour the scenery and shows his infinite range in light of his recently wrapped run as Martin Luther King Jr.—miscast though he was—in Broadway’s “The Mountaintop.” But there’s no excuse for a guy who’s worked with Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee multiple times and Martin Scorsese (remember him as Stacks in GoodFellas?) to do un film de Chris Fisher, the auteur behind Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders and the ill-conceived Donnie Darko sequel S. Darko.

To his credit, Jackson does the best he can with Fisher’s pedestrian script, based bizarrely on a novel by Thomas Berger (Little Big Man, Neighbors). But at this point, Luke Wilson has ceded his leading-man dreams to brother Owen and seems resigned to playing sad sacks like Evil‘s foreclosure-facing real-estate agent and Laura Dern’s burnout ex on HBO’s Enlightened. The rest of the cast, including GCB‘s Leslie Bibb as Wilson’s wife, NCIS‘ Muse Watson as a cop and Tracie Thoms (who repeatedly worked with Fisher on Cold Case) as his partner, merely goes through the motions.

Meeting Evil‘s greatest storytelling sin is that even though it’s painfully clear from the first time we see Jackson he’s the Prince of Darkness, the thought doesn’t occur to Wilson throughout this 89-minute film, despite telltale lines like “I don’t hurt people—the world hurts people, John. All I do is kill people who are already dead.” Thankfully, Jackson’s career isn’t dead yet, and The Avengers‘ certain success (and another potential Oscar nod for Tarantino’s upcoming Django Unchained) will ensure he can keep picking his own projects. One can only pray they’ll be better than Evil.

What’s your favorite Samuel L. Jackson film? Any fellow fans of Hard Eight, Eve’s Bayou, Deep Blue Sea, Unbreakable and Fresh out there? And why do you think Jackson doesn’t always do the right thing, cinematically speaking?

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